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Lion Apparel’s Mission-Specific CBRN PPE

Written by Linda Pitt

In 2008, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) made significant headway on developing CBRN protective apparel standards specifically for law enforcement. The NIJ initiative was prompted by the law enforcement community to address the distinct CBRN personal protective equipment (PPE) design needs of patrol and SWAT officers, detectives and crime scene investigators, a largely underserved market.

Distinguished by their mission-specific needs, law enforcement professionals require less weight, more durability and greater maneuverability from their PPE apparel. At the same time, operating in and around hazardous conditions and an increasingly threatening climate, they must ensure the same levels of NFPA Class 2 and Class 3 protection provided by standard apparel.

A technical committee composed of subject matter experts and representatives from agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Defense, National Fire Protection Association, Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health worked together to formalize the new CBRN PPE standard. Purchasing decisions should reflect an awareness of threats, mission-specific needs and fabric/ design innovations targeted at optimizing the protection and performance of law enforcement professionals.

In the Zone

Hot, warm and cold hazard zones determine system level protection requirements. This is defined as the protection afforded by an entire PPE garment and associated operational equipment. CBRN threats and other hazardous scenarios have increased the likelihood of law enforcement missions extending into warm zones and, in certain cases, hot zones. As such, they must be prepared for numerous contingencies.

Some dangers are obvious, others unclear. Biological pathogens and toxins, nuclear weapons, radioisotopes and explosives, toxic industrial chemicals (TICs), and chemical warfare agents (CWAs) in the form of solids, liquids, gasses and aerosols are among the potential terrorist threats. TIC exposure can result from accidents / spills, explosions or attacks near stored chemicals, or intentional dispersion.

Widespread availability of chemical weapons formulas on the Web, the dual use of everyday ingredients, poor storage facilities and covert chemical manufacturing continue to escalate the possibility of CWA attacks. In addition to the wide array of terrorist threats, clandestine methamphetamine drug labs are a pervasive risk for law enforcement.

During a CBRN incident, law enforcement duties typically encompass first responder, crowd control, maintaining perimeter security, and tactical operations—each posing the risk of exposure. To accomplish their missions, professionals must be able to adjust their equipment and protection needs in line with their duties and a broad range of hazards. This need for a greater range of protection and functionality prompted the NIJ initiative for law enforcement CBRN PPE standards.

CBRN PPE Considerations

Respiratory protection is considered the most important piece of CBRN agent protection for law enforcement officers. In line with current OSHA Standards and NFPA protection classes, the pending NIJ 0116.0 requirements for law enforcement CBRN PPE include three classifications of respiratory equipment: Air-purifying respirator (APR), powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Beyond the respiratory component of CBRN PPE, there are other key considerations afforded largely by fabric and design innovation for the law enforcement community.

As protection needs are determined by the known / potential threat, education in understanding the applications and limitations of protective gear is paramount. On the whole, this has not been a priority within the law enforcement community—mainly because options did not exist. An officer responding to a hazardous threat would simply don a raincoat to secure the perimeter. Tactical operators entering warm or hot zones had no choice beyond donning the bulky Level A protection designed for HazMat personnel, firefighters and emergency responders. In both examples, safety and the ability to effectively execute the mission are compromised.

GORE® CHEMPAK® selectively permeable and ultra-barrier fabrics are behind sweeping advancements in protective garment design that align with current threats and law enforcement needs. The challenge today lies in matching the right material / garment with the threat at hand. For this reason, law enforcement personnel should be well trained not only in choosing and using the PPE garment and components, but also in understanding the channels through which protection is compromised.

Incorrectly donning protective gear poses obvious risks. But equally as threatening is failing to choose the appropriate material for the hazard. CBRN agents and climate conditions impact a garment’s protection level and duration of protection in different ways. Permeation and penetration compromise protection. Factors affecting the permeation rate of a fabric include chemical and material interactions, concentration, temperature, humidity and the amount of surface area covered. Factors affecting the penetration rate include chemical / material solubility, surface tension, pressure, temperature and pathway size.

Understanding when a mission calls for selectively-permeable fabric (cold and warm zone threats) and ultra-barrier fabric (warm and hot zone threats) offers secondary advantages to CBRN protection. Law enforcement missions are physical. And although GORE CHEMPAK fabrics greatly reduce the weight and bulk of CBRN PPE, officers lose confidence when “over-outfitted” for a mission. Additionally, departmental budgets call for optimized use of protective gear.

The NIJ initiative will undoubtedly be a catalyst for a broader array of PPE garment options constructed from air-permeable, semi-permeable, and barrier materials. But unless constructed with mission-specific design considerations, they will still fail to meet the complex needs of law enforcement professionals.

Mission-Specific Design

High-risk entries, such as narcotics laboratories; hostage rescues and rapid interventions; CBRN threats; contaminants such as petroleum, oils and lubricants; and secondary threat protection from bombs, are among the many law enforcement missions requiring PPE design modifications. Often operating under stealth conditions, officers’ functional needs begin with color and noise reduction among other concerns.

The first issue is reduced weight and bulk. Heat stress is a major concern during tactical operations where SWAT officers are required to spend hours in protective gear, often engaging in highly aggressive activity. Duties in this area call for streamlined design and lightweight fabrics that can be worn for up to six hours and can withstand a very wide range of temperatures.

Second is durability. Conventional PPE garments do not offer fabric strength capable of withstanding highly physical law enforcement missions. Forced entries, apprehensions, extended periods spent kneeling and navigating rough terrain call for a very strong outer shell that resists rips and tears. In addition to durability during use, law enforcement departments need to see a return on their investment. Multi-use / multi-wear CBRN PPE is optimal.

Third is maneuverability. Unencumbered movement is critical. Law enforcement professionals need a greater range of motion, the ability to move within confined spaces and ease in donning and doffing by the individual using it. Conventional zippered garments require two people (the wearer and an assistant) to seal everything up, which is not practical during most missions.

Fourth, compatibility with tactical / law enforcement equipment is an issue. Operators need built-in features for rapid access to holsters, scopes, badges and other equipment without added discomfort. They need gloves that enable extreme tactile sensitivity while delivering CBRN protection. Whether firing a weapon, collecting evidence or engaging in a variety of investigative processes, officers need dexterity, easy access to equipment and protection.

Fifth, expanded field of vision, which is essential for execution. Traditional garment design greatly limits the field of vision, impacting an officer’s ability to precisely execute a mission. Operations call for up / down / forward / peripheral vision, a snugly fitted hood that will accommodate a ballistic helmet and SCBA mask, while enabling wearers to make minor adjustments with ease.

Multi-Threat Protection

Lion’s Tactix® MT94™ is a chem. / bio ensemble for multi-threat incidents in warm and hot zones. It provides high-level vapor impermeability to protect against select chemical and biological terrorism agents. Designed to enable tremendous functionality and performance, the MT94 recently earned the recommendation of members of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA).

In addition to guarding against challenges identified in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 2007, 1994 and 1992 standards, Lion’s MT94 offers NIJ LERL-1 and LERL-2 protection (pending the adoption of NIJ 0116.00). This Class 2 / Level B garment also offers protection against flame and “weaponized” chem. / bio agents. Combined with its mobility and comfort, this added layer of safety separates the MT94 from other chemically protective gear.

In the field, the M94’s subtle coloring, “quiet” fabric and streamlined design facilitate stealth operations. Officers have a greater range of motion and ease in donning and doffing. Customized features securely accommodate equipment and identification. Users can kneel in the garment. Personnel have maneuverability, expanded field of vision and protection necessary to execute specialty missions with confidence.

This apparel is structured with GORE CHEMPAK Ultra Barrier fabric, a thin, lightweight and high-strength PTFE film with a tough Nomex® outer shell, which means Lion’s MT94 significantly reduces weight and bulk while delivering a superior barrier. The fabric enables high levels of flash protection and abrasion resistance, seam strength and overall durability.

Internal temperature can be rapidly reduced by soaking the exterior of the garment with water. As a multi-wear / multi-wash garment, it delivers a substantial return on investment. The MT94 is guaranteed for up to five uses if not exposed or contaminated. The MT94 can be used with any of three certified SCBA masks: Drager Panorama Nova, MSA Ultra Elite or Scott AV 3000.

Mass-Incident Protection

Citing comfort as a chief benefit, Lion Apparel’s MIG Z3 (Mass Incident Garment) was selected as a “Best of Show” offering. With pending NFPA 1994 Class 3, LERL-3 and LERL-4 protection levels, it is ideal for CBRN hazards within the warm zone that are below IDLH levels.

MIG Z-3 utilizes GORE CHEMPAK SPM barrier fabric. It bypasses zippers in favor of Velcro® straps that remove air gaps and allow for tremendous ease in donning and doffing. Features include: 1) a parka-style coat with an attached and stowable hood compatible with APR or PAPR devices, 2) mid-bib level pants, 3) a vapor skirt that offers continual vapor protection while allowing the operator to wear a duty belt, 4) removable gloves and booties, and 5) Velcro marking tabs for attaching badges and insignia.

Regardless of size, the need for police departments to have protection against CBRN threats exists. This need is not limited to major metropolitan areas. Those that can afford to should “mix it up” to optimize protection and performance. Innovation is improving the economics. Law enforcement professionals finally have options to make CBRN PPE purchasing decisions based on their unique requirements. Identifying possible threats and related missions are critical first steps of the selection process. The rest can be determined from a basic question: Will it do what I need it to do?

Linda Pitt is a marketing and public relations communications consultant. She can be reached at lpitt@gajservices.com.

Published in Tactical Response, Sep/Oct 2009

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